Thrift stores have a way of blending into the landscape, but the proprietors of the new Savers outlet at 7333 West Towne Way want you to know they have arrived. Their promotional blitz included a press release to the local media (believe me when I say that I do not get many press releases about thrift stores), as well as a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning and other festivities.
Loudest among the festivities: a Dixieland jazz band made up of elderly men who, seated in folding chairs near the entrance, played old Tin Pan Alley favorite like "Sweet Sue" and "Sheik of Araby." It was a lovely, faintly loony accompaniment to the store's frenetic opening moments.
Frenetic how? Well, the publicity push apparently worked, because in the 9 o'clock hour the new Savers was thronged with bargain-hunters perusing clothes, books, toys and the odd piece of exercise equipment. At the door, greeters hailed shoppers like old friends, while inside red-smocked clerks answered questions and lifted heavy items. The giddier employees wore balloon-animal headdresses.
The Savers people are smart to cultivate some hoopla, because the new store is easy to overlook. It is tucked away in a remote corner of the West Towne Mall sprawl, behind the Toys 'R' Us and a few doors south of Best Buy. At first a thrift store seems faintly out of place in that miasma of big boxes, but the new Savers looks at least as clean and well organized as any Wal-Mart. And certainly the new location is more inviting than that of the city's other Savers outlet, which sits in an East Washington Avenue strip mall that is, let's face it, a little sad.
I for one welcome another thrift store. Shopping at them can be marvelous fun, and there is the thrill of the hunt in turning up, for example, a well-made, brand-name article of clothing amid the racks and racks of dross. I still wear a vintage Lacoste knit shirt I found some years back at a thrift store on the South Side of Chicago, and a beautiful brown sweater I bought at the east side Savers continues to serve me well.
But I have learned something in years of thrift-store shopping, first when I lived in Chicago and now here: Thrift-store styles reflect the city. Chicago is not quite a fashion capital, but people there do dress well; not coincidentally, the thrifting is great. Madison, on the other hand, is a sartorially casual city, which means that the thrift-store pickings tend to be heavy on the ratty T-shirts. Indeed, a visitor here might be forgiven for at first believing that we all do our clothes shopping at thrift stores.